July 9, 2021

What Is Infrastructure as Code?

What is infrastructure as code? Simply put, infrastructure as code, or IaC, is defined as an IT setup that enables development and operations teams to manage and provision an organization’s tech stack using software instead of manually-configured hardware devices and operating systems.

In a DevOps environment where development and operations work collaboratively, IaC provides the flexibility, scalability, and control needed to achieve continuous improvement and faster deployments. However, things get a bit confusing because infrastructure as code applies the same strategies used in source code to the DevOps infrastructure itself. Read on and we’ll explain.

What Is DevOps Infrastructure as Code?

Some say DevOps wouldn’t be possible without IaC. Historically, managing IT infrastructure was done manually using physical servers.

Meaning, operations teams had to configure machines according to the requirements of the application and operating systems before deploying an application. As you might imagine, this manual process runs counter to the fast-paced, continuous nature of DevOps.

The introduction of virtualization has made it possible to run several servers, each with their own OS, simultaneously, from a single piece of hardware. Software-Defined-Networking moves the control plane from hardware to software, where it can be easily modified to accommodate changing scale, capacities, and operating requirements.

IaC takes the hardware out of the equation and allows users to build and deploy stable, consistent environment simulations rapidly and at scale.

Additionally, IaC applies DevOps activities like version control, virtualized tests, and continuous monitoring to the code governing your DevOps infrastructure. Meaning, IaC applies the same processes used to develop applications for end-users to optimize the environment and workflows that employees use to develop and test those applications. The goal here is to improve internal processes to support faster deployments and better outcomes.

IaC Brings More than Automation to DevOps Infrastructure

It’s too easy to dismiss infrastructure as code as another form of process automation, but there is far more value to be gained. With IaC, any changes made to the environment are handled with code, right from the beginning.

Instead of designing a hardware infrastructure from scratch, then ordering, receiving, and preparing the components, then setting the whole thing up before finally loading the software, the entire process is done using code.

Beyond the added convenience, speed, and flexibility, IaC automates the environment build-up process and self-documents each version it creates.
This is important for two reasons. The first is, it allows you to quickly trace an anomaly back to the source by consulting the code. It also functions as a safeguard against human forgetfulness, automatically creating documentation for all settings, addresses, and other critical information.

As in DevOps, infrastructure as code enables you to test, integrate, and deploy infrastructure improvements as a continuous cycle. It also provides a simple process for rolling back problematic changes using software version control.

Controlling DevOps infrastructure through code creates an ability to resolve problems and improve performance that is far more responsive and efficient than human operators, with far fewer errors.

Key Benefits of Infrastructure as Code and DevOps

IaC is a critical factor in bringing developers, operators, and data center management staff into alignment, offering access to the tools and techniques needed to get their respective jobs done.

One of the more notable benefits of IaC is speed, as you can set up your entire infrastructure by running a script. This allows organizations to deploy infrastructure architectures in several stages simultaneously.

What’s more, you can do this for every environment, from development to QA testing. Programmers might use IaC to design and launch sandbox environments, which allows them to develop in isolation, risk-free.

For QA professionals, IaC delivers consistent copies of production environments, meaning testing results become more reliable. Ultimately, IaC speeds up the end-to-end development cycle, taking your team’s productivity to new heights.

Fewer Risks
It doesn’t matter how detail-oriented your team is or how many checklists you have in place; manual processes lead to human error. IaC solves the human problem, with the configuration files themselves serving as the single source of truth.

This ensures that the same configurations will deploy consistently, eliminating errors caused by misconfigured hardware or software.

Properly configured software also never violates security protocols, whereas humans tend to seek out the easiest point of entry, even if it puts the system at risk.

Server and device updates and upgrades can also result in errors due to manual changes made to their configuration. This condition is often referred to as “configuration drift.”

Consider how many devices need to be upgraded or updated, and this problem compounds exponentially. With IaC, you can include a complete restoration of the accepted base configuration of any device before performing any upgrades, updates, or patches.

Reduced Costs
Cost reduction and control is another key benefit associated with IaC adoption. By having computers respond to alerts and integrating corrective scripts, human labor is reduced. The accelerated process is executed instantly, reducing downtime and the ensuing disruption.

Many operations choose to reassign the newly available labor to higher-value tasks. Increases match the reduction in cost in speed. With fewer anomalies and outages creating less disruption, operations run faster. Typical infrastructure management and problem resolution are executed far more quickly than a human could respond.

Potential Risks of DevOps Infrastructure as Code
On the flipside, introducing infrastructure as code can pose a few risks if not implemented correctly. You’ll need to have the right tools in place such as a configuration management system, which may require additional training.

If errors are made during the IaC setup process, those errors can proliferate through your servers — fast. Additionally, if administrators make changes that stray from the pre-defined IaC template, it opens up the risk of configuration drift.

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